Canker sores: those tiny little mouth-blisters that can easily ruin your day. It’s difficult to eat anything salty, drink hot coffee, or even talk sometimes! So, what’s the deal with canker sores?

What Are Canker Sores?

Medically known as aphthous ulcers, canker sores are small, shallow lesions that appear in and around the soft tissues in your mouth. You’ll most often find them at the base of your gums, inside your lips, or on the insides of your cheeks. While canker sores aren’t contagious, they can be pretty painful, and they do take a while to heal — usually a week or two.

How to Tell If It’s A Canker Sore:

There are a few surefire ways to identify canker sores. Here’s a list of common symptoms:

  • Small round or oval shaped sore (large canker sores can have irregular edges)
  • Has a white or yellow center and a red border
  • It has formed on the inside of your mouth, on any of the soft tissue (basically anything that’s not your teeth)

Where Do Canker Sores Come From?

Unfortunately, canker sores are a bit of a medical mystery.

We know they’re not contagious, but we don’t exactly know where they come from. Doctors do agree that they are probably genetic, and a few suspected causes of canker sores are:

  • Hormone-related, specifically for women
  • Injuries, like when you bite your lip
  • Braces, which can cause abrasions on the inside of your mouth
  • Acidic food or drinks like orange juice
  • Lack of vitamins like iron, B12, and folic acid
  • Food allergies
  • Excessive stress

What else should you know about them?

Canker sores are not the same as cold sores.

Cold sores are highly contagious and are usually located on the outside of the mouth, whereas canker sores are always on the inside of the mouth, lip, or gum.

Canker sores are usually very shallow ulcers on the inside of your mouth that are red on the outside, and white or yellow in the center. They typically start with a small burning or tingling feeling and then evolve into more painful ulcers. One of the problems with canker sores is that because they are on the inside of the mouth, they can take a long time to heal.

Smaller canker sores can stop hurting after about 7 to 10 days, but won’t heal completely until about 1-3 weeks later. Large canker sores can take as long as 6 weeks to heal. It is possible to get another canker sore before the original one heals.

Why do they hurt so much?

A canker sore is essentially an injury to the inside of your mouth. Unfortunately, the inside of your mouth is full of digestive enzymes and acids that eat into the sore, which is what causes the pain. Although there isn’t a way to stop them from occurring yet, there are a few home remedies that might help ease some of the pain.

How do these remedies work?

Using simple science, some people have come up with home remedies to “cure” canker sores. While there really is no cure for canker sores, there are some remedies that do logically make the pain go away.

Since the pain is caused by acids, most effective remedies will contain a neutralizing agent, that steers the acids away from your canker sore for a while.

Canker Sore Pain Remedies:

Chamomile Tea

The plants in chamomile tea have been known to contain anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Tea is also alkaline, which helps to neutralize the acids causing you pain. Soak a chamomile tea bag in water for a few minutes, and then place it directly against the sore for 5-10 minutes. If you do this twice a day, it should help with your discomfort, and promote a speedy healing process.

Salt Water

A common remedy for all kinds of sores, cuts, and burns, salt water is a great disinfectant. It will take out any infection that could cause your sore to hurt more. Consider adding a bit of baking soda to your saltwater mix, as it is alkaline and will also help neutralize acids.


Chewable Tums, Pepto-Bismol, and Rolaids were made specifically to help neutralize digestive enzymes and acids, which means they work for more than just your upset stomach. These chewables will also help ease the pain of your canker sore if you place the tablet directly on the sore. Make sure to follow dosage directions on the label.

Aloe Vera

Like saltwater, Aloe Vera is another one of those cure-all remedies. The plant possesses a lot of natural anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it feels so good on a sunburn. Dab a little bit of natural aloe gel (not the green kind from the store) on the sore to help relieve the pain and speed up the healing process.


Some people swear by this method, but we’ve yet to try it. You can pick up Alum, a common spice used in pickling, at your local grocery store. Alum functions to draw the water out of the sore so it can heal quickly. Apply Alum topically to your canker sore, and let it sit there for about 60 seconds. It’s important that you do not swallow the alum, as it can be very bad for you. Once you’ve let it sit, rinse your mouth out, spit out the alum, and you should see relief within 24 hours.

Can I Prevent Canker Sores?

Canker sores tend to be recurring for people who get them, so there’s no surefire way to prevent them from happening again, but there are a few precautions you can take to try and prevent them:

  • Reduce Stress – Some people find that they get more canker sores, or their canker sores occur when they’re stressed. If that’s the case for you, you might consider taking a few precautions to reduce your stress. Meditation, yoga, and guided imagery are all things that can help.
  • Take Care of Your Teeth – The best way to avoid triggering a canker sore is to keep your mouth clean. The fewer bacteria, the better chance you have of keeping your mouth canker-sore free. Be sure to brush and floss regularly, and avoid toothpastes that irritate your mouth.
  • Protect Your Mouth – If you have braces or other dental gear, ask your dentist for orthodontic wax to help prevent scratches and scrapes. The fewer abrasions within your mouth, the less chance canker sore bacteria has to get in.
  • Choose The Right Foods – Everyone reacts differently to different foods. If there are foods, (salty or acidic ones in particular) that seem to irritate your mouth, stay away from them when you can. The more irritated your mouth, the more susceptible you are to canker sores.

When to Talk to a Doctor or Dentist About Your Canker Sores

If you are having recurring issues with canker sores, you should consider talking to your dentist. They may prescribe a prescription toothpaste, or a special antibacterial mouthwash to help with your symptoms.

If you are in an abnormal amount of pain, or are experiencing an unusual amount of canker sores, it might be time to go see a doctor. Sometimes canker sore-like symptoms can be linked to more serious conditions.


Are canker sores getting you down? If it seems like they just won’t quit, come on in to the office of Drs. Creason & Weber, and we’ll see how we can help you out. We’re currently accepting new patients, so feel free to call our office at (616) 842-0822 or contact us online at your convenience!